Its a well known fact, there is a right way and a wrong way to pitch to a Journalist. In this years' recent survey: The State of Journalism 2021 from Muck Rack, their results were surprising.
In this post today, we will dive into the survey results, cast a few ideas on how you can change your future pitches for the better and even give you a few sneak insights from my former journo head.
When I first started out as a young journo in (cough) 2003, the world had already grasped the first flushes of the internet, however, it was no where near the world we live in now (Millennials read on:) Facebook was still for U.S college types. No one outside the corporate world had ever heard of emails and as for Twitter (well, isn't that something that birds do?) Journalists to the public masses were still shouty men with large lenses and notepads. Oh, things have changed!
Yet there are some things that haven't changed.
When you pitched to the press back then, you got on the phone. If you wanted to build a relationship up with the local press, you brought them a coffee or took them out for a sandwich (if you were really keen.) You still need to pitch to them, yet (and here comes to the downside to the web) the fact that journos are seemingly more accessible to the outer world, it doesn't mean to say they are at your beck and call.
They are still human being who have a job to do (although sandwiches and lunches per se are have somewhat shrunk) and you STILL need to build some sort of working rapport with them.
Often businesses think all you need to do is drop them a pitch and behold! They will immediately cover it for you in their beat. Wrong. They have better things to do.
However, be their friend and give them stuff they REALLY want, and they WILL work for you. Honest.
Right, let's get back to it and have a look at the data from Muck Rack again.
If you think about it, you're never the only pitch in the pack in the average journo inbox. The busiest of the bunch can be bombarded with up to 200 pitches a day depending on their niche and who they work for.
The more influential they are, the more pitches rain on them. Just by starting with that figure, you get an idea on how crucial it is to shove your head above the waves and get noticed.
1. Give Journalists what they want.
It's kinda no brainer but still, even the sharpest of PRs miss this trick.
Ok, I shall be straight with you. Journalists don't care about your business. They don't care about your new fangle dangle product, your new office junior, your new car. They care about THEIR audience, their readers, their listeners, their viewers. They want news, they want comment, they want everything that is in their interests of their audience's lives. It's a simple as that.
So, the next time you pitch, think of the person you are pitching to. Journalists have agendas. They have trends and topics at the top of their list. It is worth mentioning they also have an editor on their backs who also has deadlines and advertisers to invoice and printers to keep happy (if they're in print of course) and a whole host of other externals chomping at their ankles.
As a PR or a business who is doing their pitching, it is YOUR to work with the journalist and HELP them achieve their goals. Stop press: Journalists are not there to please you. Sorry about that.
Don't forget, Covid-19 is still big news (and it's likely to stay that way for some time to come.) In fact, in Muck Rack's survey, out of the 2,482 journalists surveyed, a whopping 51% said that much of their reporting has pivoted to angles relating to the virus subject, citing that 82% of those asked said that their work had been affected by the recent events.
It is tough out there, and even when you think Journalists have got more than enough to cover, much of their job roles have either dramatically changed (and not for the better) or they have been subjected to their own job uncertainties.
From the heart of a former journalist:
So, you see, when you start to look at the job of the journalist and the press industry as a whole, it will change how you see them, as much as it should also change how you pitch to them.
As a once hitting the beat journo myself, the pressures of deadlines and getting the right stories out there can it tough. Much of the pitches I remember getting were, I have to say, utter wastes of time. If only people had bothered to read what I had written in the past, it would have made me feel better, or at least, listened to.
Before you pitch to a journo, take a look at their recent work and read it.
Get a feel of how they write, what they are interested in and their style. It will give you an insight as to how they communicate and how they might want to be communicated to.
It's not a Journalists job to promote you. Sorry. But its true.
Pitch a topic that's relevant to the Journalist you are pitching too. You wouldn't pitch a cooking recipe to a sports Journos - don't laugh, it happens more than you think!
Pitch to a person if you can - not a news desk and don't pitch the editor!
Spell their name right (see above.)
Follow them on Twitter (in fact, make lists for different niches on the platform.) Take notice of what they comment on, what they like etc.
Look at the themes they write about. If you news fits, then open your pitch with a clear line on why you see a link between what you have and what they write about.
Send them as much info a possible, contact details, links, images, everything so they don't have to go and hunt for info. It will show you care about the lack of time they have.
2. Leave the pitching to email ONLY
There re, sometimes, the odd journalist who is open to the odd DM (direct message.) If they are, they're likely to to add this in the bio on their Twitter page. Or, even better, they will post in their email address for pitches (love journos who do this.)
BUT, and here is the catch - just because you see the envelope sign on their Twitter bio, does NOT mean to say they are open to DM pitches. In fact, take it as read they aren't.
Remember, there is no such thing as free publicity (in spite of the popular saying.) Your news has to be news, and not just something you want to do as a favour for your client or your business. News is just that - something that's new, interesting, informative and for the public so that they can gain insight, knowledge and fact that informs them.
From the heart of a former journalist:
Thankfully, during my Journo days, very few Joe Public had a mobile phone. The internet was something that we were all still getting used to and most of the population where getting their news from television or newspapers.
Social media at the time was pretty much in its infancy so the role of the journalist was somewhat limiting by today's standards. I was still sending my emails back and forth to my editor (who was in Canada) but I wasn't hailed by pitches from all angles.
My heart goes out to those still in the trenches of Journalism now. Pitches are being fired at all angles. Your eyes have to be everywhere at any given moment. It must be Hell. My advice to a PR today would simply to be mindful of the workload you are thrusting yourself at.
Leave the pitching to email only. That way, your recipient gets to have everything in one place so they don't miss a beat. Twitter is for seeing what other Journos are talking about, catching breaking news, checking quotes from celebrities or notables. It's not for pitching.
Keep to email. Always. Nuff said.
Facebook is for personal stuff
Twitter is for well, twittering and anything breaking news
Instagram for pitching.... er..... no.
Keep the pitch sweet. Don't ask how they are. Stuff it full with good info, no waffle, send links and images, links to DropBox, Google Docs, fabulous.
Give them a killer subject line - How To's with a brand name added will make them open time after time.
Journalists would rather here from an in-house PR rather than an agency (55% vs 34%) Yep - an insider PR is always better (that makes us smile.)
3. Don't ignore the niche blogs and digital press
Perhaps one of the stand alone pieces of data which surprised me was the fact that Journalists are relying more on online newspapers than social media for their news. In fact, Twitter has fallen in popularity from 22% down to only 16% this year for news research, with online publications popular with 58% of journos surveyed.
The best thing about blogs and online publications is that they give an innovative perspective - they are key and stuffed fully of insight, comment and opinion. A carefully researched blog post (rather like this one) which has credible links and industry insight is gold dust to a Journalist and is favoured by a passing reporter for comment. It's not the first time we have picked up press coverage simply because a reporter has spotted the blog and got in touch.
From the heart of a former journalist:
When I was a gal in the press world, there were the creepings of blogs with longwinded urls which often had the word 'freeserve' in the middle of the search bar, sported garish pink backgrounds and comic sans ruled the pages. Thankfully times have moved on and blogs are now the epicentre of news, opinion and comment.
Blogs, in the beginning featured amateur train enthusiasts with worn jumpers and very little going on in their private lives. Now, blogs are powerful machines where it is possible to make your fortune, gain backlinks, guest post and generally be a force to be reckoned with. They are just as much news sources as anywhere else now and not to be sniffed at.
I wish we had had the same calibre around in my day. Aye.
The joy of content marketing has been finally given the acknowledgement it deserves.
Blogs have grown in popularity and are not seen as the ramblings of the general public anymore. They have credibility and often have followings and subscribers matching any newspaper.
Niche publications attract very specific crowds who are interested in industry movers and shakers - be one of them.
The will pitch out through press requests just as much as a paper journo and are always on the hunt for CEOs, industry spokespeople, newly formed partnerships and collaborations. If you have a business bite, share with them. They will be tickled pink.
Blogs are open to proactive reach 'outs' and are more likely to respond.
Be warned. They may have submission guidelines so look for these first and stick to them. Just because they are digital only doesn't mean to say they aren't credible.
4. Get on to trending topics
There is a new buzz word which is spreading across the PR world - and it's called newsjacking. Where the top branches in the air have been doing this on the sly for the last few years, the word of this secret to getting coverage is fast creeping through the ranks in public relations.
For those of you not entirely sure on what this not-so-new phenomenon is, I shall explain:
According to the online dictionary search: "...It is the practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one's product or brand. Timing is everything when it comes to newsjacking..."
Watch that end towards the end there - timing. This is the crucial bit.
For those of you who have time and the passion for TED talks, you would know if a certain chap call Mr David Meerman Scott who conducted a presentation whilst striding up and down the stage in a shiny suit about this subject.
He started off the talk with a bit of name dropping on how a local insurance company manage to use crocodile attack insurance to Mr and Mrs Barack Obama on his visit to Australia during his term in office. Despite the topic in question for this TED Talk, I am surprised to say it still to this day has only received 23 likes since it was first posted in 2016.
It is the powerhouse of PR. Many of the top drawers of Media have been using this to it's full effect for the last 100 years. Yet it is only starting to trickle down the ranks now. Perhaps because like PR, it's taken some time to realise it's not just for the top end of all industry.
I shall go back to that keyword again - timing. If you don't take this word seriously when attempting to newsjack on a current rising trend, then the activity will fail. Badly and your efforts will go completely unnoticed. Sad but true. As Mr MS explains, when a news item is souring, that's when you strike with your own news, not when the trend peaks. The second it peaks, the public will turn away, and more importantly, so will the press. The moment has gone and so will your efforts.
From the heart of a former journalist:
I scoured the net for stories. Whenever there was a sniff of a big news item about to jump (like the winning bid by London for the Olympics in 2021) then I was there searching everywhere (and blogs) for scoops, breaking news titbits, comment, expert opinion. Where there is a whiff of a breaking news item, the journalists are at their more active.
Think wasps in mid July.
The best way to approach this, is think about your own actions when big news items hit the airways over the last 20 or so years. Think World Trade Centre, Soham murders, Michael Jackson trial. What did you do? Switch on the TV news? Read a newspaper, either on or off line? Jump on to Twitter? Facebook perhaps? I guarantee you did one or more of the above as soon as you heard.
All these things were big news during my time as a journo. It was at these moments BEFORE the break, that I would be at my most active as I would scour both no and offline sources. The internet has developed even more since then. The possibilities of successful newsjacking with the right timing, are endless. But (and here's another warning) DON'T jump on something political (like 9/11) don't jump on something which is devastating or negative in anyway shape or form. Choose your newsjacking carefully - I can't stress that enough.
Your aim, as a professional to is look for serendipity.
Be the positive aspect. Show value in what you are doing in your news, show that you are helping and doing something good
Stay away from devastating news or anything negative.
Your goal is to gain the same level of acknowledgement from your target market/public/press, what ever it is you want, and create a 'happy accident' and be right at the very point when the world is Googling that trending news item.
Use your links with great effect - when you write your blog post on how to help, for example, Kim Kardashian's life can be beautiful again by showing off her best family photos on Instagram or how your box of tissues can save a celebrity marriage, then link back to your product/service/offer.
You don't have to go all in on a global news item or high profile celebrity - this can still be used locally. Look out for your local rags and see what's trending in your community.
5. Self appointed 'experts' just don't cut it
Now this is one that surprised me (and rather puts a lot of noses out of joint too) is that Journalists aren't overly keen on pitches which relate to people who are self appointed experts. Ok, so what does this mean? We all know that one of the key elements of a great pitch is that all important quote and a credible source of info. You know the sort of thing.
The best resource which is much favoured by the press, according to Muck Rack's survey of 2021, is academic scouring rated around a staggering 86% of Journos, with self appointed experts only favoured by 11% of journos asked. Bloggers didn't do well either at only 13%, with CEO's coming second at 74%. So what can we take from this? When it comes to your pitch, make your research as credible as possible and preferably from outside your organisation. Think external. Think of an authority in your industry who can comment or who has commented on your topic recently.
From the heart of a former journalist:
When I was on beats, if I was looking for an expert, I would want an expert. I would hit the net, my contacts and ring round to find comment, quotes or interviews (depending on the requirements of the work.) I wanted to see out inside opinion, insightful information, curious data and anything I could get my hands on which gave value to my readers and enriched their knowledge in one way or another.
What I stayed away from were people who claimed to be experts yet didn't deliver anything of value.
Something to remember - what makes an expert? Someone who offers value and helps in the right manner, not someone who is openly promoting either products, services or themselves. I would always look for comment from people who have offered with knowledge in the form of guest posts, comments and interviews in the right areas, such as niche publications, formative blogs, radio broadcasts, podcasts and newspaper.
So that about wraps it up for this week's delve into the world of press pitching. It doesn't have to be the headache beyond headaches for either a business or a PR. You are all there to help each other. Press want us to work together so let's help them delver the best, more accurate and informative news that we can.
Lastly, some other rather handy takeaways from the Muck Rack survey:
Over all, Journalists are spending less time on social media than they did last year.
Journos think that the way companies share information to the media is outdated.
Journos like to see their relationships with PRs as being mutually beneficial only.
Nothing worse than bad timing pitch wise.
Journos hate being called with a pitch almost as much as being pitched to on Twitter.
Mondays are the best day with Tuesdays a close second (naturally)
Early morning pitches before noon at the best
Most pitches won't even get read.
Journos have 2/3 pitches they will write a week.
Only a quarter of stories they write will actually come from a pitch
Journos prefer short pitches of 100-200 words.
Follow ups 3-5 days later are the best and more likely to be responded to.
Best pitches are exclusives (but don't make them up)
Resources: The State of Journalism 2021 by Muck Rack - download your copy from here - worth a read and a keep.